Detroit’s new urban agriculture is a good start: Part 2

Detroit’s new urban gardening ordinance allows urban gardens in a majority of its zoning districts. The use is permitted by right in all of the City’s six residentially zoned districts.

Detroit’s new urban agriculture ordinance addresses a variety of farming, gardening and other uses including aquaculture, aquaponics, farmers market, greenhouses, hoophouses, hydroponics, urban farms, and urban gardens. The urban gardens are allowed by-right in all of the city’s six residential districts. The by-right designation will allow these uses to occur with limited review by the city. Gardens are by-right uses in all of the business districts except the B5 business district. The gardens are permitted in that particular district as a conditional use.

Michigan State University Extension offers some key parts of the ordinance:                              

Urban gardens are permitted to some degree in all four of the city’s land use categories: residential, business, industrial, and special and overlay districts. Greenhouses, hoophouses, urban farms and urban gardens are permitted as by-right uses and conditional uses in all of the residential, business and industrial districts. These three uses are conditional uses in the more restrictive residential districts of R1 through R3.

However, greenhouses, hoophouses, and hydroponics are by-right uses in all of the city’s industrial districts. Urban farms and urban gardens are conditional uses in the industrial district classification.

The new ordinance is very permissive of greenhouses, hoophouses, urban farms and urban gardens. The primary difference is the variation of the uses as by-right uses that allow limited review and the conditional use that will require a more extensive review of the proposed activity by the city and will require a public hearing as a part of the approval process.

The new ordinance allows all agriculture uses existing before its adoption to be conforming uses if they meet the requirements of the new ordinance. The ordinance states that “agricultural uses that conform to this chapter’s development standards for urban agriculture shall be considered conforming uses.” Uses not consistent with the ordinance are deemed legal non-conforming uses subject to special provisions of the code, one of which requires a review and approval process by the city’s planning commission.

While Detroit’s new ordinance is permissive of gardens and urban farms, there are some prohibitions to these uses. Farm animals are prohibited; “injurious or invasive” species of trees as defined by the city’s zoning code are also prohibited as well as certain crops. “Oats, wheat, and rye (in order to prevent rodents) except when used as a winter cover crop and not grown to full maturity,” the ordinance states. For more specific information, readers can contact Detroit City Planner Kathryn Lynch Underwood at 313-224-6378 or at

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